The Book of Proverbs

In a museum in Amsterdam, painter Rembrandt’s Descent From the Cross is on display. The painting tells one much about the artist. The dark background says there’s no hope in nature. The crowd around Jesus’ cross is disheveled, ignorant, swayed by every emotion. No hope in people.

Rembrandt painted himself in the picture, his way of saying he, too, is a sinner. And the light is focused on Jesus on the cross. Ah, here is hope in the intervention of Almighty God!

A person’s work tells one much about the laborer: who he is, what he believes, his ethics. Paul explained in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” The Greek word for workmanship is poema. The English word poem comes from that. Our workmanship is our own poetry. That meal we cook, that carpentry job, the song we write, lawns we mow. It is our artistic signature, a testimony to ourselves as well as to God.

In studying work the book of Proverbs is the place to start. There we are taught of three sorts of workers.

Slothful Workers

First there is the lazy worker. Rifling through the pages of Proverbs’ thirty-one chapters one finds such descriptions of slothful workers as…

Prov. 6:9-11 “How long will you lie there, o sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you as a robber, and want like an armed man.”

Prov. 10:26 He’s a pain to work with.

Prov. 12:11 He’s lost in worthless pursuits.

Prov. 12.24 He has to be forced to work.

Prov. 12:27 He’ll never catch his prey.

Prov. 13:4 He is full of cravings.

Prov. 14:23 He is all talk and no action.

Prov. 19:24 He buries his hand in the dish but is too lazy to bring it to his mouth.

Prov. 20:4 He does not plow, but come harvest time still looks for food.

Prov. 21:17 He loves pleasure, oil and wine.

Prov. 22:13 He’s full of excuses. “There is a lion in the street.”

Prov. 24:30-31 His field is overgrown and has no wall.

Prov. 26:16 He refuses to take advice.

A great icon of lazy work is Dagwood of the comic strip. “I can’t go to work today. I have a headache, runny nose and sore throat.” His wife Blondie points out, “But, it’s Saturday, your day off.” Dagwood jumps out of bed eager for fun. Blondie observes, “That has to be one of the fastest recoveries in medical history!” Dagwood is like so many: a shirker, lazy but wanting that paycheck, the rewards of work.

Deceitful Workers

A second sort of worker is the deceitful laborer. Proverbs 6:12-14 explains, “A worthless person, a wicked man, goes about with crooked speech, winks with his eyes, signals with his feet, points with his finger, with perverted heart devises evil, continually sowing discord.”

Prov. 7:6-23 Mentions a harlot.

Prov. 10:2 There is no final profit in deceit.

Prov. 11:1 Mentions false weights.

Prov. 20:17 Stolen bread seems sweet but turns to gravel in the mouth.

Prov. 21:6 Mentions bribery.

Roman sculptors hired to chisel a bust often cracked the stone. Rather than start over they filled in the flaw with wax. It looked good until it melted on a hot day. So patrons began demanding busts sin cere, without wax, hence our word sincere. To be what one seems.

We need that today on Wall Street, in boardrooms, with Pentagon contractors, among televangelists, at the bank. A businessman interviewing a young job applicant asked him, “What is 2 plus 2?” The young man leaned in close and said, “How much do you want it to be?” Such is the climate of our day.

A tragic example of a deceitful worker in the Bible is Absalom (2 Samuel 15). Absalom was David’s son and thus in line for the throne. This young prince couldn’t wait to wear the crown. He used every opportunity to second guess, go undercover and sow discontent against his trusting father. The result was a bloody civil war.

Deceitful workers are the bane of church staffs, causing much division.

Diligent Workers

Thank God for a third sort of laborer, the diligent worker.

Prov. 6:6-8 compares him to an ant.

Prov. 10:25 He’s a rock in a storm.

Prov. 12:11 He plows.

Prov. 16:6 He is loyal, faithful, fears God.

Prov. 21:5 He’s not hasty. He plans ahead.

Prov. 22:29 Though He falls seven time, he rises every time.

I stopped to get a shoeshine in the Fort Meyers airport. The man was doing a fine job and I complimented him on his work. “Yes, sir!” he said, “I shine each shoe like it belonged to Jesus!”

The composer Rossini once remarked, “Give me a laundry list and I’ll set it to music.” That’s how we Christians should drive a truck, hammer a nail, teach school, or wash windows—solid, ethical workmanship to the tune of Jesus Christ!


Will Rogers put it well: “What this country needs is dirtier fingernails and cleaner minds.” Yes, bring on the workmanship! Bring on the poetry of a job well done!


"The university is the clear-cut fulcrum with which to move the world. More potently than by any other means, change the university and you change the world." Charles Malik, past president of the UN General Assembly

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